Category Archives: Bird Behaviour

And Let Birds Fill The Sky – If The Wind Isn’t Too Strong

We had puzzled over where to go during the spring break, as the suite that our friends owned in Kimberly had been sold. I wanted birds, my Mom needed ttranquillity and my Dad didn’t want to drive too far. The kids didn’t care – as long as there were rocks, trees, or snow to play on, they were fine. Flip-flopping between Edmonton and Waterton National Park, we eventually settled on the latter (though I now wish we had gone to south eastern Hanna – there was an Alberta first Common Crane there!).

During the four hour long drive, I observed many dabbling ducks and hawks, but little else. Briefly stopping over at Frank Lake, we found that it is bursting into Spring, supporting Greater and Lesser Scaups, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck and four Red-breasted Mergansers. I think that the male Red-breasted Merganser is probably the most beautiful bird I’ve seen – which means something. Unfortunately, they were half a kilometre out, and we obtained no good photos.

Continuing to Waterton, we identified meadowlarks hawking from roadside poles and hawks hovering over the rolling meadows. When we eventually reached the diminutive hamlet of Waterton, I was surprised at the exact measure of solitude – there was only one shop open in the whole area! I do not believe that we saw more than 10 people the entire time.

Moose

A Moose we saw.

Waterton is very windy, with winter winds whistling through at an average 100 km per hour. Not enough to blow you over, but it can make it tough to hold your camera steady. Despite this, we manged to pick up quite a few species at the Hay Barnes Trail, an excellent short walk for anyone in the area. There is a theory that the first five minutes after you get somewhere are the best, and this was hardly disputed when an adult Prairie Falcon skimmed the long, waving grasses within a minute of our arrival. It alighted on a tall aspen and surveyed the surrounding fields. It took off a second later, joining a high-flying Red-tailed Hawk. However, as is often the case in these things, the fragile peace between the two raptors was broken when a Common Raven came hurtling out of the sky at the Hawk. The falcon joined in, and soon all three had disappeared over the hilly horizon.

A distant shot of the three birds – Raven on top, Red-tail below, and Prairie Falcon to the left.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall – click to see whole photo.

Upon our return to Waterton, we found three American Dippers broadcasting their songs by bouncing them off the stony cliffs by the waterfall. The other treasures occurred during the 50 km drive between Waterton and Pincher Creek, which we completed three or four times. Great-horned Owls, Northern Harriers and Golden Eagles supplemented the Red-tailed Hawks, while countless Mountain Bluebirds sang from the fence line. Every once in a while, we saw some Sandhill Cranes or Red-winged Blackbirds.

Northern Harrier – male

Naturally, when we returned, we learned of the Western Bluebird, the Cassin’s Finch, and that blasted bird, my nemesis, the Short-eared Owl that had been seen. Why oh why must those annoying owls insist on avoiding me? Oh well.

That’s all from me, but I’ll post more as migration continues. In the mean time, please consider donating to my Great Canadian Birdathon if you haven’t already. Thank you to all who have!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Springing into Spring

Spring has finally started to slouch back in to Alberta. Swans, ducks and geese, shorebirds and sparrows are all starting to arrive from down south. And what is spring without a good snow-storm?The Eagle watch is running once more, (see posts here and here about my experiences with that in previous years) and the Great Canadian Birdathon has started (previous posts: 2013 2014, 2015, 2016, 2016 #2). This is the first year that I will be doing my birdathon in a team, and I will be joined by Canadian Birder.

In terms of bird species arriving, it is just starting, but some good birds are coming through already. A first ever Killdeer on my local creek, as well as Robins, Song Sparrows and a Varied Thrush.

American Robin and Killdeer

Varied Thrush

Reports have been streaming across the province of Pintail, American and Eurasian Wigeon, Scaup, Geese and Gulls. A Wood Duck has arrived already, and I saw only the third Trumpeter Swan in the Calgary area this year, then followed it up a week later with five more.

Green-winged Teal and Ring-billed Gull

Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers are drumming and displaying nuthatches litter the woods. American Crow numbers are growing, and the snow is slowly melting as I type.

I’ll post more photos soon, as the light increases and the birds grow in numbers. There are lots of events coming up, so I’ll be really busy, but I’ll do my best to get some posts out.

The Banff-Canmore Christmas Bird Count Results

Well, another Christmas Bird Count has come and gone, this one leaving us with much to
ponder.

Four weeks before the day, the weather forecast was for -12 to -13. Great, I thought. The warmest count in quite a while! Two weeks before the day, it was calling for -15 to -20. That’s OK, about average weather. The day before the count, I was sending out a weather warning to my counters. It will be -29, with windchill -45. Dress warmly! Don’t start at dawn! And please, please don’t get frostbite!

Yes, it was the coldest count since 1966, and it did not look promising, especially for people with Reynolds Syndrome. Despite the weather, we only had one group pull out, and still ended up with the largest number of participants for our count since we started. Too bad we also had the lowest number of species since then.

This is going to be mostly writing, as I did not fancy carrying the four hundred ml camera around in the cold. A friend of ours, though, is never without his camera, and he had attached some heat packs to the body with duck tape. Talk about dedication! I’ll include some of his shots here. This one is mine, though.

Mallard Hen

Mallard Hen

It was so cold, that on last Tuesday, I found the body of a Black-billed Magpie lying prone on a branch, frozen to death. I didn’t take a photo, though. On the count, the 17th, I did a section of a partition before returning to collect results at my house. Tallies were small, as birds were hiding from the cold, but we found some rather lost sparrows, including a Song and a White-crowned Sparrow in Canmore, with two more Songs and a White-throated Sparrow in Banff.

Common Raven

Common Raven, Credit: Miles Tindal

We almost cracked the individual numbers record for Common Ravens, with 319, but overall numbers were down. Total species were 7 short of the long term average of 43 species, not including count week birds, which was joint lowest ever. Woodpeckers were in short supply, as we did not find a single Flicker or Pileated during the entire week, leaving us with only three species.

No flickers, but we found 7 Downy Woodpeckers

No flickers, but we found 7 Downy Woodpeckers

The winter finches were down from their explosive numbers last year, but that is understandable, considering how irruptive they are. Ten Pine Grosbeaks, 11 Common Redpolls and nothing else was still slightly surprising. There were also only 41 Bohemian Waxwings on the count, spread out into small flocks. Small birds held to their averages, some of them slipping a bit, but nothing special.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee, Credit: Miles Tindal

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee, Credit: Miles Tindal

Jays were down slightly, with only one Stellar’s and 7 Blue. Grey Jays added up to a good total of 26. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Canmore record no Ruffed Grouse, and Banff only one.

Still, the participants were good, with plenty of new faces, and many of the missing numbers can attributed to the cold. The full list is here. I hope to see many new people next year as well, and hopefully some more birds!

Canada’s National Bird: The Grey Jay!

It may or may not be news to you, but for the past while, Canada has been searching for a national bird. Starting with forty contestants, then narrowing down to 5, it has been an intense period of voting on exactly which species to choose.

The decision to have a national bird is (another) way of celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, which is fast approaching. In the end, the five finalists were voted on by the public, but the winner was decided by a committee with members from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl, second in the voting

At the end of the voting period, the Common Loon had the most votes, followed by the Snowy Owl, and then the Grey Jay. The other two contestants were the Canada Goose, and the Black-capped Chickadee.

Unfortunately for the owl, loon and chickadee, they had all been claimed already as provincial birds. The Snowy Owl in Quebec, the Common Loon in Ontario, and the Black-capped Chickadee in New Brunswick. This, according to the deciding committee, ruled them out.

Common Loons

Common Loons

That left the Canada Goose and the Grey Jay.  The Jay has a lot going for it in that battle.
The Canada Goose is despised in many places, by many people. It is considered a pest; it eats crops, spoils public parks, and, to top that off, has a renowned bad temper. Is this the bird that Canadians want representing them? Frankly, it goes against the current public view of us as a kind, gentle group of people who couldn’t be temperamental if we tried. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it conveys the general idea.

Who, me? Temperamental?

Who, me? Temperamental?

The Grey Jay, on the other hand, is a hardy little songbird, braving the north cold, and storing and remembering vast numbers of caches. It comes across as cute, intelligent and yet still tough, perching on your hand to take a seed while its mate devours a vole, or insect. Oh, and it was called the Canada Jay for over two hundred years.

Grey Jay

Grey Jay

Although I personally would have chosen the Pine Grosbeak, I believe that the Grey Jay, or Whiskey Jack, is the best choice out of the five contestants. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

The West Coast Trip (Week Two)

First of all, a correction – I had, in the last post, made an error in my identification of photo number six – it is a Savannah Sparrow, not a Golden-crowned.

I’m sorry this comes out late; despite being one of the best things ever to happen to me, homeschooling rhythms have yet to fully settle in.

We started the second week with high hopes – it all revolved around the pelagic tour that we hoped to do in Tofino. Long Beach and Englishman River Estuary also looked promising.

Monday we visited Long Beach, where both of my siblings had a lot of fun jumping over waves.
I, on the other hand, scoped the ocean hoping for murrlets and Pacific Loons.
After about ten minutes of searching, something other than a Pigeon Guillemot or Surf Scoter brought excitement.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Through the fog, I could see something that could possibly be a Pacific Loon!
Nope, false alarm. It was a Red-necked Grebe. Though still interesting, it was not what I had hoped for. A few minutes more, and this time I had found a loon. In fact, there were about 6 of them, but unfortunately too far away for photos.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The only bird other than a gull to turn up actually on the beach, a Least Sandpiper.

That afternoon, we headed into Tofino, and found three Bald Eagles circling behind a sea-side restaurant, which was throwing out it’s fish guts.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Tuesday was the day planned for the pelagic trip. Sooty Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklets and many others awaited. We walked in to the tour office, and the co-owner radioed a captain who was out near where we would go. Apparently,  there was still fog out near the island, and the waters were getting “tricky.” In short, we could not go. That hit us hard. The entire trip had hinged on this outing!

We drove back across the island (meaning Vancouver Island) and once on the other side, met up with some friends who had recently moved there. At least, the others did. My Dad and I went to Englishman River Estuary for a couple hours.

Killdeer were the first  things we saw, and we went on to count 35 of them along with the Western and Least Sandpipers, and a few Sanderlings. A bunch of Common Mergansers and a late Western Gull added to a total of 21 species.

Killdeer

Killdeer

The next day, we had a long stop at Rathtrevor Beach, where there were oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls galore. There was also a quickly approaching tide, so some wet feet were involved.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

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In Victoria, we did a short whaling trip during which I did as much birding as possible, drawing out Surfbirds from a photo of an island. At the time, I was unsure of their ID, but now there is no doubt, though the photos are bad. An aqua-phobic just can’t take photos from a boat.

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher – 2 of each, but the turnstone

Can you find all the birds?

Rhinocerous Auklet

My Dad’s shot – Rhinocerous Auklet

That evening, we headed out to Clover Point, where we (eventually) found the much-hoped-for Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gull

Heerman’s Gull

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Back on the mainland, a quick stop-over at the fabled Reifle Bird Sanctuary turned up 35 Herons, 10 Sandhill Cranes and a Virginia Rail among others. This Leucistic Mallard is banded, but unfortunately I was unable to get the band information.

Leucistic Mallard

Leucistic Mallard

And that’s it from my West Cost Trip #2! Thank you everyone for reading, and stick around to hear about the Canmore Christmas Bird Count.

Black-throated Blue Warbler Update

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The rare warbler I saw on Friday has been hanging around our house recently. It is a
Black-throated Blue Warbler and is really a south-eastern species, having between 15 and 25 official reports in Alberta. A few people have been over to see him, but all these photos are mine.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Here, it’s bending it’s wing over its back to get past a close tree branch as it flies.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The Rarest of the Rare

I’m sitting here in shock. Looking through the photos, checking Sibley’s, looking at the photos.  There’s no doubt that I saw what I immediately identified. I just still can’t believe that it’s over here.

Back it up. I had just been out for a walk along the best birding areas in Canmore, but I hadn’t seen much. Instead of turning home with a book full of warblers and thrushes, I had a few Mallards and an American Crow.  I turned into my yard and saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and then another, and a third. Kinglets are tiny and bounce around a lot, and it was while I was watching them that something else flew into the large bush.

I looked over, expecting to see a Dark-eyed Junco, or a White-crowned Sparrow, and instead see a stunning, male warbler. And not just any warbler. A Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Of course, as I maneuvered around the cars and trees (yes, they were that close together, this is Canmore) I was thinking about this eastern species. Suddenly I remembered. If you see a rare bird, especially one like this, you take a photo to confirm it.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

It naturally flew away very soon after that thought and I was left with forgetfulness to blame for my few snatched photos as it hopped around on the other side of the bush.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

So, I’m sorry that I can’t give you better shots, but I will try again today, if I can find it.
A Black-throated Blue Warbler is quite the find in Alberta, never mind in this little mountain town. And, of course, in my own yard.

Drive to Drumheller and Back Again

We were going out to Drumheller for the Saturday. I knew what this meant. No more than fifteen minutes out of our way was Langdon Corner Slough. I had been preparing all week – for what? For the first time ever, an Arctic Tern was nesting in Alberta, and we were going to see it.

I know Langdon Corner Slough pretty well, and I knew that the tern was nesting on an island a good distance out, too far for our cameras too do much good. That was why I had my Uncle’s gleaming fixed 400 ml. lens beside me with two extenders. The extenders would slow down the shutter speed by a stop or two depending on which one we used, but it would give us the extra distance I needed to get a half-decent shot.

Sadly, the ARTE is not the one flying, but second from the left sitting.

Sadly, the ARTE is not the one flying, but second from the left sitting.

I found it almost immediatly, but could not get a good photo because of the distance and heavy camera. Through my scope, we found also the two hybrid Common/Arctic immatures, but they were hidden by the long grass. Here is a Common feeding its baby (not a hybrid).

Common Tern feeding young

Common Tern feeding young

The terns were active quite a bit, and the one time that the Arctic flew and I caught it, it was out of focus. Here is the shot. The Arctic is in the bottom left corner.Flying TernsIn one corner of the Slough, we saw a large number of Marbled Godwit. I haven’t really looked for one, so if anyone sees a Hudsonian in there, please let me know.

Godwits

Godwits

That was it for Langdon, but there will always be Upland Sandpipers on the way out East.

Going, Going...

Going, Going…

False Alarm!

False Alarm!

I also got a nice photo of the all too common White-crowned Sparrow. If your ebird checklist doesn’t have one here, you’re cheating.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

And that’s it! I will post again soon.